Parliament to rule on info bill committee

2011-03-07 17:30

Cape Town - The future of the parliamentary committee handling the contentious protection of information bill is likely to be settled on Wednesday, the Speaker's office said.

The issue is expected to be handled in a motion in the National Assembly.

Work on the legislation ground to a halt last month when opposition parties said the lifespan of the committee had been unlawfully extended, the Speaker's spokesperson Sukthi Naidoo said.

The extension was granted by Deputy Speaker Nomaindia Mfeketo after the committee's lifespan lapsed on January 28, following a request from committee chairperson Cecil Burgess.

The opposition protested that it was unlawful to extend the lifespan of a committee after it had expired, and that instead it should have been reconstituted, which only the National Assembly could do.

Further grounds for legal challenge

On Monday, the Democratic Alliance said it suspected the ANC would use its majority in the house to push through a ratification of Mfeketo's decision.

DA MP Dene Smuts warned that the ruling party was potentially creating further grounds for a legal challenge to the legislation, which is already viewed by many as unconstitutional in its current form.

"There are already so many for a constitutional challenge," Smuts said.

"You cannot extend the lifespan of something that has expired. It is a contradiction in terms."

Smuts said the DA's concern should not be interpreted as an attack on the person of the deputy speaker, and blamed Burgess for the confusion.

"There is no ad hominem attack on the deputy speaker. We are just sticklers for procedure as one must be when one has to uphold the Constitution," she said.

"If anybody is to blame it is the chairman, because he incorrectly reported that the committee had asked for an extension to the end of March. We did no such thing."

Tea ‘is unauthorised expenditure’

The opposition as well as an ANC member of the committee Luwellyn Landers had proposed that the committee be reconstituted with a year-long mandate to complete the drafting of the bill.

Opposition parties last month walked out of the meeting of the committee after signalling their protest against the extension.

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani Ambrosini warned Burgess that the meeting was unlawful to the point where the tea served to members amounted to unauthorised expenditure.

The bill provoked a public outcry last year because of the vast powers it would confer on organs of state to classify information.

Faced with accusations that it was resorting to apartheid-era secrecy laws to stifle criticism, the government made two major concessions.

The state security ministry agreed to scrap provisions allowing for classification in the national interest - a concept dismissed by critics as nebulous - and the classification of commercial information.

Vast areas of discord remain, and meetings have regularly been attended by placard-bearing activists protesting that the bill is an attack of freedom of expression.

  • lldoidge - 2011-03-07 17:57

    They took this bill out of the archives ,of parliament filed ,under the nationalist government! Can't even be original with a gagging bill.

  • Pat - 2011-03-07 18:21

    I have read the plain English version of the POI Bill, in its present form it will not pass constitutional muster, there are too many undefined areas. What is the national interest, what penalties will be imposed, and most sinister of all who are the “authorised officials”. Who are these mysterious entities who will have so much power, this document originated at SACP headquarters and reads like something out of Kafka, I suggest the commies go back to the drawing board.

  • Madelane - 2011-03-07 18:40

    We had all comment quickly before the press is muzzled to ensure the end of the present endemic state of corruption within the ruling party and it's allies.

  • Madelane - 2011-03-07 18:41

    Rapid return to the dark days of NAT rule

  • kevinrtrs - 2011-03-07 19:59

    This little wrangle sounds the ominous warning that South Africa is about to follow the footsteps of big brother Mugabe up north. This is exactly how Mugabe's dictatorship started - with a small, almost unnoticed scrap in court against the opposition. The ANC will surely not re-constitute the committee, thereby giving a clear message to the opposition and any other law-abiding citizen that there is no longer any democracy in this country. Let's see if this pans out this way.

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